Sarah Kirkland Snider and Shara Worden on Penelope

Worden, on the other hand, though steeped in the classical tradition as an opera major in college, managed to find some academic support for her multifaceted interests.

"I went to a State School, so I was singing in punk bands and stuff," Worden explains. "But I was fortunate enough to have a teacher that would suggest I listen to Edith Piaf if I was going to interpret Debussy...So I think in that way, I did get really lucky with the teacher that I had."


Mediating between the classical and rock worlds was often a tricky path. Worden says she couldn't  deal with the weight of history. "I think there are classical singers who come at it being an interpreter, with an immense amount of freedom and an immense amount of creativity, respecting a style," she says. "For me, that wasn't going to work for me... I felt like there was something I would never measure up to, that there was this perfection. And that's not true of classical music -- it's not true, that was only me in my mind."

After college, she spent a year living in Russia, which sparked her creativity through the new logic of a different culture. Armed with that perspective, Worden returned to the States and took her talents to the rock world, with her cross-genre project My Brightest Diamond, emerging as one of the most sought after vocalists in the hugely popular orch-pop pocket of indie rock. Only recently has she come back to her classical roots. Worden's voice flourishes in the works of Kirkland Snider, where despite myriad pop sonorities, the complexity is not lost on the listener.

"As much as I'm an intuitive composer, it's very important that everything feel like it's there for a reason and not random." Kirkland Snider says. "I'm always thinking about how does this relate to the larger picture, how is this motive related to this one, or how does this element foreshadow this other thing? Or if something is totally a surprise, that I maximize the effect of surprise to the greatest degree possible."

On Twitter recently, a young composer lamented on cliche tendencies in their writing, to which Sarah replied with optimistic proclamation: "Some of the world's greatest music is in 4/4 + D Major. It's what you do there that matters." Humorously paradoxical, considering Worden's half-joke that Penelope "changes time signatures, like, every measure."

Yet Kirkland Snider's tweet seems to encapsulate a belief that simpler, traditional structures sometimes offer more space to create something new.

"I believe that a billion percent," she says. "I actually had a teacher tell me my writing was too clear, which I never understood how that could be a bad thing. This value system that got sort of niche-y and un-audience friendly in the course of the 20th century."

She continues, "I understand that people [in the classical world] are nervous. They feel like they need to justify themselves. The great composers before the 20th century, a lot of them -- like Mozart -- would write music of great complexity, but it was a different kind of complexity. It was music that was very accessible to the non-specialist. A regular, everyday person who had no experience in music could find something to latch on to or feel moved by, and it spoke to their experience in the world. And that somehow became a bad thing over the course of the 20th Century. The only thing that mattered was if they were new and innovative in some way and it became harder to be innovative. A lot of that ideology is really toxic and harmful to young composers."

Shara Worden performs Sarah Kirkland Snider's Penelope and new chamber works with ymusic at the SPCO Center Music Room Tuesday, February 26th and Wednesday, February 27th at 7:30 PM as part of the Liquid Music Series.

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